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Measure the Immeasurable: Analytics Lessons from Astrophysicists


For the first time in history, scientists have heard proof of gravitational waves. This tiny blip of sound proves Einstein’s theory of relativity. More importantly, it has opened up a new way to study the cosmos: sound.

In our businesses, we are often asked to measure the immeasurable — be it the results of a radio ad, the effect a news story has on our business, or how a new product or price change has on sales.

We can steal a lesson from astronomers and measure the immeasurable by monitoring relationships.

The best part? You don’t have to build a two-and-a-half-mile laser to do it. You just have to read this article.

Measuring the Immeasurable in Space

Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein rewrote the rules for space when he announced his general theory of relativity. Instead of space being a fixed, unmoving object (a lá Newton), Einstein claimed that space and time could stretch and shrink.


Image: The News Doctor


As The New York Times describes, Einstein thought of space more like your bed mattress: when someone lies on one side, that side shrinks down, while the other side expands. According to Einstein, this stretching and shrinking of space would release ripples of gravity known as gravitational waves.

This idea was only on paper, however — until now. Two research labs in Louisiana and Washington were able to capture the sound of two black holes colliding and sending out a faint chirp, which represents a gravitational wave. (Listen here, and learn more about gravitational waves here.)

A New Way to Measure

The most exciting part of this discovery is not the actual results, but the new methods used to discover them.

The two research labs, known as LIGO, use a pair of L-shaped antennas inside a tunnel, each side two and a half miles long. In the tunnels, there are two lasers that measure sound frequencies from space. The gravitational wave made a little chirp because one side of the L-shaped lab rippled slightly before the other side of the lab.

Watch the amazing video here:


Image: The New York Times


In other words, the relational change measured the immeasurable.

What Relativity Teaches Real-World Businesses

Your business may not be rocket science (or the study of relativity), but you may have the same herculean tasks as modern physicists: how do you measure the immeasurable?

At 9 Clouds, we are asked this on a daily basis: How do I know an ad worked or a change I made influenced the success of my business?

Online, almost everything is measurable, which is why we love digital marketing. For many businesses, the digital has to become physical at some point, like when it is time for a customer to make an actual purchase.

Fortunately, businesses can measure their digital and physical success with their own LIGO lab: relational data.

A 6-Step ROI Experiment: How to Measure the Immeasurable in Your Business

If you want to know whether an “immeasurable” marketing technique has worked (and was worth the investment), set up the following experiment:

1. Identify what “has worked” means. Does increased web traffic, increased foot traffic, more leads, or more sales represent success? Know what result you are looking for so you know objectively if it happened.

2. After you have your goal created, calculate the environment surrounding the goal (just as physicists measure typical space noise).

As an example, this could mean knowing the average Web traffic, foot traffic, leads generated, or sales. Online, this is quickly done using Google Analytics (learn more in our data marketing course here).

For even better results, segment these averages by:

  • Time of day, day of week, and month of year
  • Geographic location (meaning which city the contact visited from)
  • Source of the traffic, lead, or sale (such as a certain website, social media, or, in the offline world, by asking customers upon purchase how they found you)

3. Once the environment is measured, uncover the average change over time. For example, does your foot traffic increase 5% a month on average? Does your number of leads grow 10% annually but decrease 30% in January? Know the typical changes in your sales funnel.

4. After the averages are found, market. Run your radio ad, promote a sale, or add a service offering — but only do one. If you try multiple techniques at once, you won’t know which one has created your gravitational wave.

5. During your campaign, measure the results. How do your traffic, leads, and/or sales change?

6. When the campaign is completed, subtract your average change over time (step 3) from the results from your campaign (step 5). You now have the relational results of your marketing effort.

Specificity is your friend in this experiment. For example, look at the changes in traffic from each referral source so you can identify which source your campaign impacted the most. Measure how the leads found you or what was purchased to learn how your marketing campaign changes specific product lines.

If the relational data shows an increase in your goal, then answer the final question: was the change worth the investment? Now you can decide whether to try something else or continue the same technique. (Remember to keep measuring, because it might lose its effect over time).

Create Your Lab and Start Measuring

The immeasurable can be measured, and it doesn’t take a two-and-a-half-mile antennas. Instead, it requires consistent data on your sales funnel and a methodical approach to trying new marketing efforts.

It may feel like you are trying to find a black hole, but it is much easier.

Einstein was unable to prove the theory of relativity, but he knew it to be true. Too many marketers are basing their judgments on similar feelings. That is no longer necessary.

Follow the example of the LIGO labs, and prove your instincts to be true. Use a new way of measuring to uncover new information.

You can then make informed decisions on where to spend your time and money.

Need Help Getting Started?

Request your free marketing assessment, and we can talk through the best ways to measure the immeasurable.


Banner image: NASA GSFC